What Is Gluten and Where Is It Found?

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

A peek at what Wild Apple is all about. Credit: Liza Jernow and Tara Donne

“Gluten-free” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It doesn’t have to convey dinner plates loaded with lettuce leaves and chunks of white space. This is what food stylist Liza Jernow and photographer Tara Donne—both women with celiac disease—think, and they are creating a biannual gluten-free magazine called “Wild Apple" to prove it.

“We know firsthand that when you’re on a gluten-free diet it’s easy to turn your focus towards lack,” they write on their Kickstarter page. “Yet there are so many great things out there that we can eat! So much is still delicious and accessible.”

This week, Jernow and Donne are schooling us on what, exactly, “gluten-free” means and how those of you with celiac can eat healthfully—and decadently. And yes, those things can happen at the same time.

What gluten is: ”Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, kamut and einkorn), rye, and barley,” Jernow and Donne wrote to us. “It’s what gives many foods their structure. Think about the stretchy, gummy texture of regular pizza dough. Gluten makes that elasticity possible.”

What contains gluten: ”In addition to its pure form in the grains we just mentioned, gluten is found in foods produced from those grains: cereal, crackers, pasta, bread, beer, and cookies. It’s hidden in pantry items such as soy and oyster sauces, malt vinegar, miso, imitation crab, seitan, oats, natural flavoring, and salad dressings. Other foods to look out for can include cream sauces, broths and soups, cookies, flavored snack foods, candy and chocolate, ice cream, and rice mixes. It is often added to cosmetics, hair creams, and lipsticks.” Yes, beauty products containing gluten, applied topically, can be a problem, too. “Well, anything you put on your lips surely makes it into your mouth, so it’s recommended to check labels of lipsticks and balms” if you have gluten sensitivity. “We’ve known people who have had topical reactions to products containing gluten, but we ourselves haven’t experienced that.” 

Why it’s hard for some people to digest: ”Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the lining of the small intestine, thus interfering with the absorption of nutrients. It may be triggered in infancy or may come on later in life, sometimes triggered by physical or emotional trauma. When someone with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, his or her immune system responds by damaging the villi that line the small intestine. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, which can create many different issues.”

The symptoms: ”There’s a myriad of symptoms that occur with celiac disease, and they vary among different people. One person might just have gastrointestinal distress, while another person may have rashes, joint pain and depression. Some people with celiac disease have no signs or symptoms.” Here’s a thorough list of symptoms from the National Foundation on Celiac Awareness. It should be noted that not all people with gluten sensitivities have celiac disease, and that you should check with your doctor about any symptoms you may have. “The symptoms of non-celiac gluten intolerance can be the same as celiac disease, however the villi in the intestine are not affected because the autoimmune response is not present.”

Read more from the Wild Apple team on their favorite gluten-free breakfast and how to eat naturally gluten-free.

Wild Apple needs your help! Throw some money at their Kickstarter page if you believe in this project.